In everyday language, seeing is often synonymous with understanding, as if we could grasp the meaning of things by means of sight. Consequently, we could well think that pictorial works would be the ideal, paradigmatic setting for that fusion of sight and sense.
However, I believe that Manuel Amado’s body of work is a trompe-l'oeil rendition of what it ostensibly offers to the eye. To enter his pictorial universe, one needs to lead one’s eye to reflect (itself) on the original sighting.
Let us, then, abandon that glancing view and its seemingly evident yields, so that we may explore the paths Manuel Amado has blazed for us.
What strikes us at first sight – and, I repeat, at first sight – is what could be quite simply defined as the influence of architecture in his work, which would lead us to biographical considerations, given that he has trained and practiced as an architect.
Another aspect, mentioned by nearly all those who write about his work, is the fact that the human figure is practically absent from his paintings.
However, their most salient feature is a thorough immobility. Hence the recurring De Chirico references, and the feeling that his paintings of objects, in their still nakedness, are evocative of Morandi.
Thus, great though the abundance of detail may be, it is always attended by a disturbing divestment.
Let us, then, pass to the next level, which demands, in our opinion, an approach that is anthropological and phenomenological at once, since, on the one hand, his work is saturated with the experience of places, while on the other Manuel Amado leads us, via admittedly non-obvious means, to return to the things themselves, in a scrupulously Husserlian sense.
I survey Manuel Amado’s work, picture by picture. It is never noon in his paintings: shadows haunt objects and invade the horizon.
Often, shadows are given the definition and solidity of objects, thus turning objects into shadows of their shadow. Therefore, being becomes shadow, which suffuses us. The light that comes through the pictorial orifices / artifices achieves the same solidity, generating forms that draw our attention. Consequently, light and shadow are structuring elements, given they transfigure themselves into matter, abandoning their low-profile situation in the background to take position in the foreground of our perception, in a perpetual interplay of background and form. This emphasis, this highlighting of the form of the void is evocative of the importance accorded by the Japanese to the um, a spatial and temporal interval, a productive nothing, which is such that they consider important the shape of the empty space between material objects, as can be observed, for instance, in Zen gardens.
Rather than offering any particular meaning, Manuel Amado’s works inquire into the production of the work of art, and from there question the pictorial fact in general.
In this immobility, Manuel Amado comes across, then, as a non-established painter, because he constantly puts into question the rules of ‘figurative’ painting, destabilising and subverting the relationship between viewers and their eyes.
This is, indeed, an ‘architectural’ oeuvre. But does Manuel Amado’s painting display the influence of his academic training, or is the fascination that colours his work simply the same fascination that led him to choose architecture as a mode to create spaces and lend meaning to them?
In Manuel Amado, indeed, a truly unique mode can be found, in which these spaces organise themselves as lived-in places: the architectural mode, i.e. the surreptitious move from the second to the third dimension that is the condition for the body to enter the scene, a scene he builds volumetrically, seemingly contradicting the absence of the human figure in his works and the striking immobility of factual artistic spaces.
A new contradiction seems to derive from the first, since that immobility appears to annul the temporal dimension brought by the body’s entry in the pictorial scene.
Let us, then, approach the ever-temporary rules of his game.
Rather than objects, Manuel Amado’s pictorial interest focuses on unmovable spaces, those spaces that guide our steps, such as stairs, doors and windows, often with portals. But, what are stairs, doors and windows? They are purveyors of connections in space, purveyors of itineraries and discourses. They are the structuring elements of what Gaston Bachelard has described as the dialectics of outside and inside. What makes a house is the permanent possibility of coming in and out of it, for without that possibility the house would stop being a house and become a prison. Thus, Manuel Amado’s work brings before us an infinite horizon of possibility.
What makes us living, or, if we prefer, human beings, is perspective, that is to say, the horizon as a spatial and temporal opening. The horizon of our expectations is more basic to us than the closure of the present, for what is the present without perspective, what are we without the horizon of possibilities?
Let us go farther: where could we place ourselves in Manuel Amado’s painting? Where could he bring in the human figure? Absolutely nowhere. And, once we realise this, we suddenly realise that the human figure is not present in Manuel Amado’s painting because the painter has a deep understanding of our humanity. Every being contains a rooted house and a migrating bird. We are mobile beings, with the gift of flowing from perspective to perspective as we wander. We are beings who drift among spaces, attempting to widen the horizons of sight, to multiply the experienced spaces. We look through the window and see the sea. A small movement is all it takes to change our view of the world through the window, since one of the functions of the window, quite visible in the East, is to frame views. Through the door, we come to sit on the house’s roots. Through the door, we walk out of ourselves and into the unknown.
Where could the painter place us? And who would he place there?
Manuel Amado’s painting and the infinite possibility of me-or-anybody-else-in-my-place being able to wander, ramble, take the empty armchair. But the armchair is only empty as the horizon of possibility that someone will sit down and rise up. And yet, the armchair is not empty. Its texture does not come from its material alone. On the armchair, the light sits, its form woven by the window’s shape and frames. The light moulds places, inhabiting them as a founding, fleeting impression. For instance, Fernando Pessoa’s room changes in accordance with the light, becoming another one of itself, as the poet himself did.
However, it often falls to shadow to play the role of light as the loaded element in the foreground of our attention, subverting and destabilising the pictorial rules. And here we find again De Chirico, who also projects the shadow onto the foreground, oblique, triangular shadows that invade the canvas’ forefront. In both painters, paint becomes atmosphere, with the inside being contaminated by the outside; but De Chirico’s space is uninhabitable and incongruous, due to the subversion of perspective rules via multiple vanishing points.
Out of immobility, out of absence, the infinite possibility of inhabiting space in complete freedom emerges.
Thus Manuel Amado comes across as a decentred painter: his work does not contain a logocentrism of the painted figure, or of the spectator, as in Hopper’s paintings, but neither does it display its author’s perspective. However, it would be incorrect to describe him as the demiurge of a world who has left us to blind freedom, because his hand guides us discreetly, offering us a variety of discordant itineraries.
No wonder, then, that poets have written about his works, given that they are close to the poetic mode, in which the meaning of what is written is never literal; his painting, too, must be read between the lines.
Time, in Manuel Amado’s oeuvre, is told by means of the gerund, in continuity. It is not by chance that he paints Teresa sleeping, since only in sleep immobility is expected, besides the fact that sleep is also, and always, the source of dreams.
It is true that many describe Manuel Amado’s paintings as creating spaces for memories. But a memory can also be a memory of the future, or, as Whitehead would say, of actuality, which is never the present because it incorporates the concrescence of times. In fact, just as Leibniz states that the present is pregnant with the future, memory too recreates itself to weave new memories through the itineraries it offers us. Past and future itineraries coexist in the works of Manuel Amado, which consist of traces and glimpses. They are never snapshots limited in space and time, but unfold and undulate instead. The sea that floods the roots of the houses, the sea seen from the window, the sea that looks at the window all continue to make up the horizon of possibilities that opens to us all the paths we may blaze, as stated in a well-known poem by Antonio Machado.
And, just like the poet, Manuel Amado tells us: ‘caminante no hay camino, se hace el camino al andar.’